BOOK TWO
I- RULES OF NECESSITY

 

5. NEGENTROPY

So, we are all Alphas, and interdependence will soon make us all irreplaceable, and therefore much more equal. Great isn't it? Well, freedom has its dark side which is anarchy... and so has equality; it is called entropy and it is a depressing concept. As a matter of fact entropy, in its physical, material sense, is the grand-daddy of all depressing concepts.

The drive for equality

In simple terms, it means that all things in our universe are in a great rush to exchange energy and to become "equal". As they do, they tend towards less organization - which is a factor of differentiation that implies hierarchy - and towards the perfect uniformity of a random distribution. Want an example? Take your cosy living room in winter, open the window and let the temperatures, inside and outside, tend towards a random distribution of energy. The great outside will become a little warmer - though not noticeably so - while your living room, of course, will cease to be cosy.

Some day, all the stars in our Universe will have exchanged their energy with the Great Void; they will be cold, while the Great Void will not be noticeably warmer... Scientists call this phenomenon "heat death", and it is certainly death in its most absolute sense. When things are perfectly equal, there is simply no flow, and any kind of order slowly but surely disappears.

There is only one thing in the cosmos that seems not to obey the Law of Entropy: life. Life is the still unexplained phenomenon that shows "negentropy", a tendency for things to become more structured, more organized, and for increasing complementarity to develop amongst the different parts of an organic whole. So, if you do not like the concept of entropy, do not commit suicide: the best you can do to fight entropy is to remain alive. Being alive though, the chances are that you will not try to be average, but to be better, to have the upper hand, and to achieve something as close as possible to a God-like relation with the universe. People do not want to be "equal"; they are all in favor of negentropy.

Which, to say the least, may create frictions. Human beings have the same basic needs for the same scarce commodities and, in the beginning, had to fight tooth and nail to satisfy their needs, attain their goals, be different and better than "average". Primitive societies were "unidimensional" and, complementarity notwithstanding, being "different" then meant being higher up, or lower down, in the one and only available pecking order: the order that measured the chances for survival. It made for quite a fight in the bushes amongst the berry-pickers.

Even when team-work proved more efficient than individual efforts and people had to learn primitive interdependence the hard way, the fight went on: it simply took the form of a continuous jockeying for position within the new born societies. Days of basic needs are days of injustice, when all those who are not at the very top swear to God that they want nothing more than equality, but "equality" meaning, for every-one, having the same privileges enjoyed by whoever stands immediately above him in the hierarchy.

The drive for equality met with unequal success but was a great factor of progress, since nobody seriously wanted to be equal anyway, just to push ahead. What everyone really wanted was to have God or at least the State on his side or, as a very poor second choice, to be granted fairness and a chance to compete. There has been lots of talk about equality, but nobody ever came close.

Enough of depressing concepts, though, here comes a ray of sunshine. As long as the competition is for basic commodities and survival, it is the original zero-sum game; once basic needs are satisfied, though people realize that their higher goals diverge. Everyone still strives to make it to the "top" but everyone may have his own idea about what the top means. When we covet different preys, we may go hunting together without qualms and help each others attain our respective goals. A level of cooperation that had not been possible in a "one-track minded" primitive society, in which everyone had all the reasons in the world to think only about food and basics, became distinctly possible in a "wealthy" society that could satisfy everyone's basic needs.

When the standards of living rise above mere survival, life in society becomes more amenable, because everyone who is "rich" and has the upper hand in something may also be "poor" in something else, so everyone may be simultaneously on the giving or receiving end of a multitude of deals. Society may become accepted as the "clearing house" where people exchange thoughts, feelings, goods and services, and where compensatory inequalities come to terms. Everyone will compensate for his weaknesses with his strength, achieve his own "top" and feel equal. This is when "equality", in a sense, becomes reasonable. Equality in the sense that each may then believe his own goal to be as good or better than his neighbor's, and have faith that, on his own individual track, he is as successful and as close to the top as anyone else.

The only way for everybody to be equal is for everybody to be different and to feel equal... which is possible only when we move above the level at which basic needs are satisfied. The more prosperous a society, the more its members can afford to diverge as to their objectives, to feel "different yet equal", and to develop complementarity, which is also a rule of necessity: the answer to the increasing complexity of the system. Complementarity is built on self-esteem and is a prerequisite for honest solidarity through differentiation.

The organic society

Complementarity requires that we listen to the drive in each of us, towards differentiation, and that we accept also others to be different. Solidarity is a problem, but it is not hard to sell differentiation: most people love to be different. They love it! Differentiation is not hard to sell, simply hard to live with. It is not so easy to deal with various pecking orders and to forge together, into one single society, people who have different goals and interests as it is to handle people who are distributed along a single chain of command. It is easier to maintain the structure of a "one-track minded" society, just as it takes less of a brain to keep alive an earthworm than a complex vertebrate. Differentiation, however, leads to complementarity..., and complex vertebrates are more interesting.

What will have people complement each other - but still follow their own way - will generate momentum and make a society more alive and interesting ... if interdependence is strong enough to convince them to remain a society and solidarity strong enough to have them pay joyfully the necessary price. To accept to cooperate together as an organic whole, while they each run after their own personal objectives, people must feel really equal in their endeavors, feel interdependence in the marrow of their bones and practice solidarity. Solidarity and differentiation come together and they must be met as one challenge by a Creative Society.

Wealth brings up the level of our needs and is conducive to differentiation. Nevertheless, differentiation in early industrial society did not come immediately in the wake of affluence. To the contrary, we remained quite monolithic in our goals, because "money" simply replaced "food" as the universal exchanger and society remained almost as "one-track minded", in the midst of affluence, as it had been when survival was a daily concern. Money was so ubiquitous and pervasive, that complementary strengths and weaknesses were not compensated in barter; each was priced, and the result of unequal transaction was wealth. It created the sweet illusion that money was always the tool, and that money could give the upper hand in every deal.

We remained homogeneous in our aspirations as a society, because money did a great job of pushing aside all alternatives for horizontal differentiation; whatever the game one wanted to play, first base, it seemed, was always money. Meanwhile, industrialization had the equalizing effect of machines steal away the substance of vertical differentiation also, even along the "get rich" track which became the last remaining avenue for ambition.

Now, it's a new game, because Helots bring to an end the "one-track minded" society concerned mainly with money and material welfare. Not because there is less desire for material welfare, but because there is simply too much of everything money can buy - and too much money to begin with - for this specific wish to command our exclusive attention anymore. We are heading for differentiation.

This differentiation is already with us. In terms of ways of life, it began as various weird clothes for youth in the Sixties. It is not unusual for youth to dress "weird", by adults' standards; what was new was the variety among traditionally monolithic non-conformist youths. Then it became various more discreet - but still unusual - mores and habits for maturing young adults. Now, it is the thought patterns of the new generation that seem to lead, not to an opposite vision of the world, like in the Sixties, but to a myriad of conflicting and unrelated views that do not converge towards goals that we - or even they as a group - may comprehend.

The problem is not really whether their goals - for they are goals, however nebulous they may appear - are clear to us or compatible with our goals, but whether they are mutually compatible with one another and can coexist in tomorrow's society. Alphas will diverge and begin to go after their own goals; this we cannot prevent. We may, however, react in two ways to the challenge of differentiation.

We can accept the type of exchanges that characterizes the differentiated parts of an organic whole, renounce the Utopia of equality along any specific "one-track" system, and actively support increased differentiation. To do it, we must concentrate on playing the rules of human nature and necessity, create structures that elicit more competitiveness, and place the survival of the whole firmly and unavoidably on the path of the will to live and grow of an effective majority of its parts. This is how a living body gets by.

Or we may try to make all Alphas equal along a single track (whether it is wealth, power, prestige or sanctity is rather immaterial), in which case equality along this unique dimension will have to mean sameness, and our society will die, as surely as a man whose heart would be made "equal" with his spleen or liver..., after which the parts will diverge nonetheless, when the whole slowly disintegrates.

The leisure gambit will allow entrepreneurship to bloom, and horizontal differentiation will grow to match the increasing complexity of means and objectives in a creative society. We will see complementarity in people's ways to be, to act and to relate; this will come naturally. Vertical differentiation, though, is harder to swallow. Shall we rise to the challenge and be satisfied to let our basic equality as human beings be expressed in the fact that all Alphas have equal rights and are irreplaceable, welcoming back, as a motive for action, the very human drive to be different, to achieve, to surpass and be more? Negentropy... or entropy?


A matter of privilege

We have been conditioned to feel that it is somewhat of an injustice that some might succeed or gain more than others. Yet, it is not only unrealistic to hope for efforts and dedication without some incentive, but unfair to treat the same those who contribute to the common welfare as those who don't. The new society must be built on the assumption that there is not only freedom to work and compete, but freedom also to succeed and to enjoy the fruit of one's efforts.

If you believe that this means more money for the rich, you have missed the point somewhere; everyone should have the right to make all the money he can, of course, but this will not be the answer. Money-wise, in terms of real welfare, we have been for sometime yet on the path to equality and machines would not let it be otherwise, even if we desperately wanted to change this trend. Even as a tool for power, money will lose importance.

As a basis for discrimination, wealth, anyway, has picked up quite recently and never quite made it. It is mainly in the U.S., where we decided democratically that money should be "it"; a decision not unchallenged, even here, even to-day, in scores of artistic, intellectual and spiritual subgroups... and of course by all those for whom prejudice for race or creed is stronger than any rational criteria. Elsewhere, shabby gentility still has its proud followers, and noblesse oblige is also good for a lot of mileage in most of the world. Money is not everything for everybody.

It will mean even less in a society of affluence, most of all in an affluent creative society. We will need something else and, although it is the type of differentiation that most opposes our ingrained habits, it is through privileges that vertical differentiation will manifest itself and that incentive will be provided in a creative society.

A creative society will discriminate in favor of its achievers, and it is recognition - and the power and prestige that will come with recognition - which will be the new "discriminants". People need recognition and prestige, and pink limousines may not always convey exactly the proper message. Peerage is not about to appear in America (it would not fit the image) but it is a sure thing that, in a creative society which takes its distance with money, something will appear that can be worn on the lapel to prove that one is better than his neighbor.

We will grant privileges, and we will invent something more permanent, personal and prestigious than money for motivation. We will go out of our way to make some people more equal than others. Unthinkable in America? Why a Congressional Medal of Honor? What use is the "Ph.D." on your business card? Why "Members Only" on private clubs? Why gold and platinum credit cards? Privileges to discriminate... Its on the way....

As money will fade out as the symbol of power, it will be important, however, for a smooth transition, to keep wealth as one of the discriminants for prestige, probably together with education, celebrity, and public service. Maybe those who contribute lofty amounts in taxes would be gratified, even now, to receive an Honorary Ph.D. in Financial Management... Who knows what we will invent? A sure thing, though, is that positive discrimination will come, and it will eventually carry more than prestige, it will carry power.

It will, because complementarity is a rule of necessity and that we will encourage differentiation, granting honors, privileges, inequality enough to motivate the needed drive towards complementarity. We will grant everyone the freedom to be all that he can be and to be ostentatious about it if he likes... and we will link very concrete manifestations of social power to achievement. Negentropy will prevail.

If we are to make sure, however, that differentiation shall take place only at the level where complementarity is required, that is above the level of the common basic needs for which a Creative Society should provide - a level that will raise steadily with affluence - we will have also to let the State do for everybody what only the State can do in an interdependent society. We will want to extend a net below the trapeze act, and the Individual will pass a new contract with Society represented by the State. We will strike a new deal with the Octopus.


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